Each of these finds is a minor miracle
June 11, 2024 12:55 AM   Subscribe

The North American Crash, the Atari Shock, or whatever else you want to call it, was an incredibly traumatic event for game development in the US. Most of the companies that had been making games just years prior closed their doors, laying off hundreds or thousands of people in the process. These were designers, programmers, artists, marketers, assembly workers, and more who found themselves out of work and trying to pick up the pieces. Some were able to pivot to the home computer space, find work at the surviving developers and publishers, or form new game companies. Others left video games behind entirely. In many of these cases, the projects they were working on were simply and quietly canceled, regardless of how close they were to completion, never intended to be seen again – just a failed product that didn’t make it to market. Like Tarzan. from The Long-Lost Tarzan Atari Game, Preserved [The Video Game History Foundation]
posted by chavenet (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
bank switching [wiki, atariarchives.org] is interesting. thanks. the narrative reminds me of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow [gbooks]. also, there's a fun collection of historical video games at the Museum of the Moving Image in nyc
posted by HearHere at 2:19 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I played it for about 4 1/2 minutes of it and uploaded the video on our Peertube server. Pluses: the opening music is kind of a bop! (but not the gameplay music, you might want to turn that down) Minuses: I got stuck a few screens in and couldn't figure out what the heck I should do next.
posted by JHarris at 3:14 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


(the video is provided to help people see what it's like, but is technically a self-link, although a relevant one; mods, feel free to delete that comment if that's beyond the pale, I used a Peertube server to try to lessen dependence on Youtube)
posted by JHarris at 3:18 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Also: I like how, when Tarzan runs, it looks like they put a black censor bar over his naughty bits.
posted by JHarris at 3:26 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I was 12 in 1983 and I remember so, so vividly the anticipation of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600... the wild hype by Atari... and the crushing disappointment when it was such a garbage game and I had wasted all my saved allowance on it on release day.

Like, Activision had already shown that you could do really cool things on the 2600, and Atari had the nerve to ship this "Air/Sea Battle" looking MF?

I think there's a sort of consensus that Pac-Man marked the moment of the "step off the cliff" in the 1983 video game crash. I agree completely. Pac-Man felt like a betrayal.

I never looked at Atari the same way again. I honestly think in the late 80's when it was Amiga vs Atari ST, I was team Amiga out of held resentment. I think I'm still holding on to it!
posted by bgribble at 4:59 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Tarzan as a game was designed by future Baldur’s Gate 3 principal narrative designer Lawrence Schick

Wow. That's some longevity for the game biz.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:35 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Feels like a mix of Jungle Hunt and Aztec Challenge.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:43 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


It's a shame that a lot of the 2600's best games are garbage versions of games for better consoles. We didn't know about Moore's Law back then, but when the family could finally afford a Commodore 64, the Atari didn't get much use anymore.
posted by rikschell at 6:31 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Lawrence Schick also worked for Microprose in the late 80s/early 90s. He was the designer on the F-15 Strike Eagle arcade project, which featured innovative self-developed (!) military-grade 3D hardware but zero arcade sensibility (and probably killed the company I guess).

He struck me more as a AD&D type of gamer vs. twitch/P-J-K gaming, but that was mostly from first impressions not his actual interests.
posted by torokunai at 6:52 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Each of these finds is a minor miracle, that copies of a game that may number in only the low single digits survived time, entropy and life to find its way to someone able and willing to recognize it as a feat of human ingenuity, training and thoughtfulness.

I agree. And it takes ingenuity, training, and thoughtfulness to make them accessible to us again in some form.
posted by praemunire at 7:41 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


As of this writing, the games industry is going through another convulsion. Despite a massive number of acclaimed releases in recent years, thousands are being laid off. Much like industry staff in 1983 and 1984, there will be projects they worked on that go unfinished or unpublished, and some will be unable or unwilling to continue working in the games field, delivering a blow that will reverberate for years, much as the aftermath of Crash did.

It's been a really depressing year for game workers, I hope the scene that emerges after all this capitalist horseshit only produces a greater diversity of work after the fallow period. Sad for all the work lost, but always excited to see what else people are cooking up. I can appreciate getting to see a new art medium evolve and unfurl of the first time in history, but the setbacks hurt in the moment. Blessed are those who take the time nd effort to preserve these old games, people joke about things being online sticking around forever... but that couldn't be further from the truth. Things online are quite precarious and its impossible to know how much has already been lost forever. Things from before online was common are of course even more at risk. Shit before computers? Miracle we have any of it at all.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:09 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I had a ColecoVision (with the 2600 expansion module!) and remember this quite clearly - all of the sudden the clearance bins at the front of KB Toy & Hobby were filled with games, some in normal retail packages, but many with plain white typewritten stickers in clear plastic bags as the liquidating manufacturers could no longer afford to package them. LOTS of those games were real stinkers too - barely functional and rushed out of the door.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:58 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


>He struck me more as a AD&D type of gamer

LOL checking his wikipedia page I see he was a principal contributor at TSR back in the day so initial impression was correct. Microprose's Task Force 1942 was a helluva game idea btw.
posted by torokunai at 9:45 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Pac-Man felt like a betrayal.

This is no exaggeration. From the robotic "gomp-gomp" of Pac-Man chomping to the "doo-dee-doo-dit" of the startup music to the wafers instead of dots... it was a massive letdown for a nine year-old me.
posted by grubi at 11:32 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


It's a shame that a lot of the 2600's best games are garbage versions of games for better consoles. We didn't know about Moore's Law back then, but when the family could finally afford a Commodore 64, the Atari didn't get much use anymore.

Part of that was that the 2600 was such a limited platform hardware-wise and a bastard to program for... and part of that was that Coleco in particular deliberately sandbagged their ports to the 2600 and Intellivision to promote sales of their own console. (Ironically, Atarisoft's Pac-Man for the Intellivision was actually quite good.)

As far as Pac-Man goes... 2600 Ms. Pac-Man stands out as an apology for it, a dramatic improvement over its predecessor in every imaginable way. Third-party games like Jawbreaker and Bank Heist and Alien also demonstrated that maze-and-dot gameplay didn't have to be terrible on the 2600.
posted by delfin at 11:37 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Part of that was that the 2600 was such a limited platform hardware-wise and a bastard to program for.

Well, bastard platforms require bastard solutions.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:45 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


I dig that because, decades ago, I had a similarly twisted experiment going on my Atari.

A gadget known as the SuperCharger allowed certain games to be distributed on and played via cassette tapes, rather than on cartridges. In the interest of preserving such a fragile media, a group of homebrewers produced a CD-ROM project called Stella Gets A New Brain containing all of them that were available. After all, audio was audio, right? So the SuperCharger didn't know if its input was from tape or from CDs.

Well, at around the same time, the first 2600 emulator of sorts for Windows (the Activision Action Pack software release) came out. ROM dumps began to circulate, and before long people were merrily tweaking smaller Atari games to work on the Action Pack while waiting for more fully-featured emulators to emerge. Someone made the logical leap that if the SuperCharger could take in Atari code as audio... why not try to create more of it than the 12 games that'd shipped for it?

The MAKEWAV program converted a 2K or 4K Atari 2600 ROM image to a .WAV file. People like me then plugged the SuperCharger into their Atari, plugged their computer's sound card via extension cord into the SuperCharger... and then used a $2000 home computer as a file server for a defunct Atari game console, using the original hardware and controllers, playing hundreds of games on the add-on instead of twelve.

Life was good.
posted by delfin at 11:55 AM on June 11 [8 favorites]


I never looked at Atari the same way again. I honestly think in the late 80's when it was Amiga vs Atari ST, I was team Amiga out of held resentment. I think I'm still holding on to it!

By that time the people (managers) responsible for the terribleness of Atari Pac-Man were long gone. The two companies at that time who had rights to the Atari name had their ups and downs, but they still made some good products, including the Atari ST home computer, and several wonderful arcade games.

The VCS/2600 has some games that are still very much worth playing today. I wrote an ebook about 21 of them!
posted by JHarris at 5:41 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Was Pac Man 2600 before Superman? Adventure? ET? Just remembering back to when we played these games for months and months solid (standing on our hands, backwards), even Pac Man. I'm glad I got to be the perfect age for this stage of console evolution, the golden age of arcades, and video playback, even if it was the Pick-Up Stix of gaming and computers in general.

I think Yars Revenge is still my personal pinnacle of games from House of Atari.
posted by rhizome at 3:10 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Going by memory, I think the ordering was: Adventure, Superman, Pac-Man, E.T.
posted by JHarris at 11:06 AM on June 12


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